Buyer Beware

The term “buyer beware” can apply to almost anything. It is particularly true when purchasing a residential lot or a newly constructed home. The process begins with a developer making improvements to the land by plating it into individual lots. Many times the property is improved by installing streets and utilities. Of course, when it is new everything looks good. Out in the county the road in question could be a private road with who will maintain it and plow the snow left open to question.

The Taxpayer Association has become aware of several situations in the lakes area where problems have arisen a few years after the property was purchased. By that time most or all of the lots have been sold and the developer has their money and has lost interest in the property. It is after this passage of time that problems could arise. The problems could be in the streets or utilities like electricity, water, or sewer.

In one recent example – in the southern end of the lakes area – a group of new home owners are finding their city doesn’t want to snow plow their streets because the streets were not built to good engineering standards. The streets look good, but there is a real concern the street foundation is substandard that will cause it to breakup and become a maintenance nightmare. This particular situation has been in dispute for almost ten years and has been litigated at the Iowa Supreme Court three times. In each case the court found in the city’s favor that they did not have to accept streets that were not built to good engineering standards.

There is no easy answer. Doing your homework upfront could protect your investment. If your potential purchase is in a city check with the city/zoning administrator and any neighbors to determine if there are any issues. If the property is in the county check with the county zoning administrator/ sanitarian along with any neighbors to see if they are aware of any issues. What is the reputation of the developer or real estate agent for providing full disclosure? It would probably be a good idea to obtain any promises in writing and have an attorney review them to be sure they are legally enforceable.